As Grave Encounters begins, a TV producer is
being interviewed about a program that’s about to air. He’s speaking very seriously, letting us know
that, despite our doubts, this is the real deal, exactly as it was found, with
nothing edited—except what was necessary for time constraints. The program is episode 6 of a paranormal
investigation show called, you guessed it, Grave
Encounters. The show stars Lance
Preston—a slick, smooth-talking host, concerned more with the quality of his
looks than the show. He’s the type of
guy who could sell a car as easily as host a show.
(Sean Rogerson) is accompanied by three other pseudo-researchers—a camerawoman,
Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), a cameraman T.C. (Merwin Mordesir), and a technical
equipment manager, Matt (Juan Riedinger).
They’re all half-heartedly into the production, and, like Lance, seem
more interested in hamming it up for the camera than finding ghosts. Yes, it’s a team of paranormal researchers
who don’t expect to find what they’re looking for; they don’t even believe in
ghosts. They just want the money that
comes from producing such sensational shows.
Imagine that! Already, we have
the makings of a most realistic reality show.
6 begins with a slick, stylized opening, cutting to a sidewalk scene as
unprofessional as it gets. Lance Preson,
without haste, sets the foundation for the evening’s events—a night locked in
the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, reputed to be haunted! Yes, you read that right—locked in a haunted
hospital! “Stupid!” you say? Wait just a minute. This is sensational, it’s about money, and
these researchers don’t believe in ghosts anyway.
Hospital, as we learn from the local historian, was built in 1885 and closed in
1963. In 1948, it was the scene of a
grisly murder; Arthur Friedkin, the head physician and resident lobotomist, was
stabbed to death by several escaped patients.
This, along with the usual legends of atrocities, makes Collingwood
Hospital the stereotypic, if not obligatory setting for episode 6.
stress the money-minded priority to trump up terror, Lance bribes a newly-employed
gardener into making up a ghost story. There’s
even the typical time-lapse scene of dark clouds rolling by, as darkness falls. We’ve seen it in a thousand times in other
movies, and Lance does it for exactly that reason. He’s a cliché himself, willing to do anything
that works. Even without ghosts, Lance
says “We just wanna make sure we can get some good scares.”
in true reality TV style, we have the arrival of Houston Grey—the Grave Encounters psychic medium, there
to verify and validate what could otherwise be ridiculous. Houston is the typical but effective
overwrought character whose cheesy appearance and comments are almost
expected. In sunglasses and dressed in
black, he’s a caricature of himself, and he knows it. As soon as he enters, he senses “a dark
spirit or demon that you shouldn’t be messing with…at all!” Oh what irony there is in his theatrics!
Grave Encounters makes an academic distinction between “residual
hauntings” and “intelligent hauntings.”
A residual haunting is, so they say, “like an echo from the past,
continuing to loop over and over again.” An intelligent haunting is “a spirit that
interacts and has intention,” even, as reported, causing people to be pushed,
scratched, or thrown. Further, we have
the dreaded “full spectral apprarition.”
This is a ghost that appears in full, visible form! Of course, we can only wonder which of these
ghost combos may haunt Collingwood Hospital (wink, wink).
admit that I began evaluating Grave Encounters on the basis of what I expected
from a ghost-hunting mockumentary. I
expected ghosts that cause the occasional opening door, the sometimes out of
place item, sudden cold spot, or noise in the night—the type of subtle scares
that are slight to moderate, but always effective. I expected what real ghost-hunting reality
shows often find (or produce). Was I ever
wrong? Yes! Grave Encounters has the kind of ghosts that
dish out what I call “hard haunting.” (Yes,
I coined a new term there!) They are
physical manifestations of intangible entities, ready and willing to kick the
butts of all who dare to doubt. They
also take their sweet supernatural time doing it. Just when we think this movie might be a
subtle snoozer, the haunting kicks into high gear and never slows down. Yes, there’s hardly time to hyperventilate
between one demonic deed and the next!
for exactly what happens inside the hospital, I’ll leave that for you to
discover. Don’t worry; there’s still
plenty to see. Or, maybe I should advise
you to actually worry about that. I’ll only say that there’s a whole host of
horrors as original as any I’ve seen anywhere.
There’s a tongueless demon that, with the right exposure and screen
time, could have been a new cult classic.
There’s also a “demon girl” whose credit name is far too generic for her
originality. She’s actually the scariest
of ghosts you could see, if ghosts really ever look like her. Yes,
the types of ghosts you see in Collingwood Hospital are the types you don’t
live to tell tales about!
footage films, in general, have the burden of making us think they are real. Those about ghosts and other frightful things
have the added burden of truly scaring us.
Their success or failure can be all about this and little more. So, the obvious question is simple: Is Grave
Encounters real enough, and is it really scary? My answer to both is like a “residual
haunting.” Yes, yes, yes, and yes
again! Its effect is “like an echo from
the past, continuing to loop over and over again.” “What criteria or rubric do you use to gauge
the fear factor?” you may say. I use the simplest of measuring methods—my gut reaction to what I see
at the moment, as well as what I feel afterwards, when I should have
forgotten most of it.
More than once during and after Grave
Encounters, I second guessed the safety of the darkness around me. I even, at least once, wondered whether the
darkness may have actually moved, even when my common sense told me
otherwise. No. It didn’t scare me to death. I didn’t have nightmares, and it didn’t make
me permanently dysfunctional, giving me some phobia that few can pronounce. No movie could do that to me, so it’s not
criteria for ratings. However, I did
look over my shoulder, at least a few times, to double-check a “residual
haunting” from Grave Encounters. So, for me, the movie passed the most
important litmus test for found-footage ghost tales. It scared me!
Grave Encounters avoids mistakes many movies make by, as I
mentioned earlier, locking the group in the hospital, at their request. It’s all done to add thrills, boost ratings,
and yes, make more money. They can’t get
out, even if they want to; since they don’t believe in ghosts anyway, they
can’t imagine they’d ever need to get out. Even when the spirits are pissed, these
paranormal pros are first looking for the pranksters, rather than looking for
the money shot (or looking for a way to break the door down and get the #^%
out). The demons also do their part to
keep the crew looking smart, while keeping them in danger at the same time. (You’ll see what I mean.) Many movies make the characters pass up an
opportunity for escape, making them look stupid; this movie doesn’t. In one scene, Sasha's response to Lance's
bone-headed plan is possibly the smartest words ever uttered from a horror
victim's mouth. For keeping the
characters smart, Grave Encounters
gets a well-deserved extra rocket.
for original aspects, the one that stands out most is an odd but very effective
temporal anomaly upon which I won’t spend further time (pun intended). I’ll only say that, as a coincidence (or so I
think), this is oddly the longest review I’ve ever written. Will it ever end? What time is it? Wasn’t it that time 8 hours ago!
for acting, it’s excellent! All actors
do a professional job of making their characters seem as real as we’d expect
ourselves to be in the same situation. They all have distinct, overconfident personalities
that they play well; they also show the necessary and believable breakdown of
character we expect from people getting a paranormal ass-kicking.
about the gore?” you say. It’s here,
there, and everywhere! Once you get used
to the “full spectral apparitions,” you should have no problem with any of it. For what is happening, it’s not overdone or
underdone; there’s just the right amount of blood in the bloodbath, just the
right amount being vomited, and just the right amount running from whatever
places blood needs to run. There’s even
an animal killing scene that’s real enough to make you look for the “no animals
were harmed during the making of this motion picture” disclaimer at the end,
just to be sure.
cinematography is of the frenetic, shaky-cam type—the clichéd but necessary
trademark of found-footage films, like it or not. Whereas this effect normally annoys me, I
require it in these supposedly homemade films.
After all, it’s become a fact that people making such movies don’t know
how to hold a camera without shaking it.
Try holding one while being chased by a ghost, and you’ve got a real
excuse! There’s also good use of the
green, night-vision filming now available on most consumer-level cameras. The greenish color alone is enough to make
even the most benign of places look haunted.
I’d remove a rocket, if such a movie didn’t go green at least once or
about the running time?” I’m asking that
question myself, since you probably won’t.
It could be just right, too much, not enough, or maybe not at all! Therein again lies one of the most original
things about Grave Encounters that
may be even creepier than the ghosts!
Even though I’ve mentioned it before, it bears repeating for reasons
I’ll leave unexplained again. Don’t
worry! If you watch the movie, you’ll
have plenty of time to think about it…or will you? Or did you already?
Is Grave Encounters a perfect movie? No.
It’s not perfect, but that’s never what I expect movies to be. Is it close to perfect? No.
But, that’s also not what I expect most movies to be. Is it enough of everything it needs to be to
do the job it sets out to do, while, at the same time, satisfying the average
fan of such movies? Again, like a
residual haunting, I say “Yes, yes, yes!”
Grave Encounters is a kick-ass
thrill ride, from beginning to end, with some of the most pulse-pounding
premonitions this side of the solar system!
you decide to watch Grave Encounters,
don’t expect anything in particular. Leave
your preconceived notions about ghost-hunting reality shows at the steps of the
haunted asylum you plan to enter. Whether
or not you think it passes the scare test on film, you’ll have to agree that
you’d evacuate your bowels on the spot, if any such things ever happened to
you. Imagine, for a moment, that you
aren’t in the safety of your home, on your couch, with your dog, or whatever
makes you feel detached from danger.
Imagine, instead, that you are, like these sorry souls, in a haunted
asylum with full spectral apparitions galore!
Imagine that these demons are ready to make you bleed, scream, and die
in the worst of ways. If you can be so
humble, honest, and insecure, even for a moment, you might just find Grave Encounters making you more of the
vulnerable little human you really are! Sitting on your couch, you might even enjoy